Juliana Aragón Fatula


My First Visit to Casa Camino Real and Denise Chavez in her bookstore



That’s bullshit. That’s not what really happened. This is what really happened…

The sun shines in Pueblo, Colorado and I sip my café olla in late morning. I slept late after driving ten hours across Southern Colorado to the border town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. You know the feeling of jet lag when you’ve travelled cross country and can barely feel you legs or fingers from being in the same position white knuckled on the steering wheel and legs bent behind the gas pedals. Pero, the joy in my heart demands that I sing and dance and live in the moment of the experience of meeting new writers, work shopping with a legend, Denise Chavez; and traveling somewhere you’ve never been before, Las Cruces.

I met Denise Chavez in Pueblo, Colorado a year ago and had planned to visit her as soon as I was able.  After total knee replacement surgery, I accepted my limits and saved my money for her next writing workshop. I wanted to travel in the summer and not worry about winter storms on Interstate 25. So instead, I drove home in a summer hail storm that beat the hell out of my new Subaru and scared the bejesus out of me for hours.

The sun was shining. It had cooled off from the high temperature of 108 in Las Cruces. I stopped for gasoline and was told a hail storm with baseball size hail was ahead on the way home.

The sky blue and the birds sang and I felt no fear. A few minutes later as I drove north to Colorado, the sky darkened and the wind blew the birds like paper dolls. An ominous cloud of terror grew in the sky and changed daylight to night. It began with a sprinkle on the windshield. Plop. One rain drop. Then a torrent of rain fell sideways. My visibility changed to a wall of darkness. Vehicles began to slow and then pull of the interstate. Hail began to pound my vehicle relentlessly until I pulled off the interstate and parked next to a wall of stone.  The noise from the hail storm was so loud I couldn’t hear the radio. Streams of water ran off the stone wall and began to turn into a creek next to the car. The sky grew darker and the hail fell harder and the rain came down in sheets. I’d never seen it rain that hard, ever. I had food, water, fuel and lots of books to read, so I settled back and tried not to scream or freak out.

As I sat and waited for the storm to pass or subside, I pondered on my trip, my journey, my adventure. I felt alive and rejuvenated. I had challenged myself to travel by Subaru and experience the land of enchantment, New Mexico. It did not disappoint. Ever view was spectacular. The lava fields, the mesas, the mountains, the arroyos, the jagged tips of granite that projected from the earth into monuments. The temperature grew hotter by the hour until finally reaching a scorching 108 degrees. But suffering makes us stronger and I grew incredibly able to withstand the high temperatures. The heat melts the pavement so I saw doggies wearing little boots, glasses, and damp scarves around their necks.  I wore a slip dress, sandals, and a damp bandana around my head. It felt similar to attending a sweat lodge but the bookstore was an ancient adobe building with cracks in the ceiling and the essence of souls gone but not forgotten.

In the workshop Denise Chavez, the infamous, Denise Chavez, asked us to write and then stop and say, wait a minute, that’s not what happened. This is what really happened. We did that several times. Each time getting closer to the truth of our family myths and legends.

Denise gave us breaks for café olla, fruit, nuts, pan dulce… We switched from writing myths to creating myth boxes of recycled cigar boxes donated to the bookstore for craft projects. We brought family photos and mementos to embellish our myth boxes with memories of loved ones. Mine turned out to be a huge success even though I don’t consider myself artistic that way, the spirt moved me, the women worked elbow to elbow in the tight space and shared scissors, glue, and chisme.

We returned to writing our family legends and myths and wrote about the relative we wanted to explore. I wanted to write about the love story of my parents. Also their struggles and successes. I used photos of my mom, dad, son, and myself to inspire me to create the myth box and the myth and legends. This activity felt like art/write/perform and heal your deep pain. Women cried and laughed and hugged and ate and drank and sang and danced and rejoiced in being alive and experiencing a shared moment in time.

The ambiance of Denise Chavez’ book store, Casa Camino Real, feels sacred, holy, rooms stacked ceiling high with books by incredible writers. Paintings and  photographs on the walls by famous artists: Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and the talented and handsome husband of Denise, Daniel.

I spent the evening talking with Denise and Daniel in the lobby of my motel. We talked like old friends for hours. We enjoyed each other’s company so much, I promised to return again so we could share more stories. The couple have synced their communication after years of marriage so that they compliment each other’s stories. They have a sense of humor that can’t be denied. Interesting, funny, generous, charming, and a very liberal. I could have spent days with them and never tired of hearing their stories and sharing mine with them.

The adventure, the road trip, the writing workshop, the meals and conversation, the café olla and the iced tea gave me a jolt of happiness that I will never forget. I planned on learning from Denise, the master writer, and sharing my knowledge with my writer friends in Colorado and California. She graciously allowed me to video interview her afterward even though we were exhausted and she had just held a press conference for Los Libros traficantes the day before. She loved telling the writers about the caravan of book smugglers who travelled through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to deliver banned books to students in Tucson, Arizona and the Ethnic Studies Programs in the schools. Denise has her hand in many political hot pots of activism. From the Lasagna Day Fundraiser for Feral Cats, to the Cultural celebrations of Chicano artists, writers, move makers, and social activists fighting for the underserved and marginalized.

Stay turned for more about my adventures in New Mexico. I need a few days to refuel and then I’ll be back to tell you more. Until then, remember my friends, if you don’t get sticky, you aren’t having enough fun.






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Finalist in Montana High Plains Book Award

imagehigh plains book award in Montana

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